- Doug Padilla, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- Chris Sale certainly has the stuff to be a staff ace, the only question was how he would handle the role emotionally.
After one major test, the Chicago White Sox are more than happy with their rotation’s new front man.
Sale fired 7 2/3 scoreless innings and the bullpen cleaned up the rest in a 1-0 victory that was earned with every bit of savvy their 24-year-old pitcher could muster.
Sale kept the Royals off balance by changing speeds off a blazing fastball and causing plenty of havoc with a devastating slider.
“It was fun, it was exciting,” Sale said. “It was everything I thought it would be and more. I thought I did a real good job of kind of collecting myself and not getting too amped up too early or too late and it ended up being a pretty good day.”
Pretty good indeed. The last time a White Sox starter won his debut in the Opening Day role was in 2002 when Mark Buehrle did it.
“I think he did a good job of keeping his emotions in check; he was excited,” manager Robin Ventura said. “I think it was what you expect in a lot of ways, him going out and being effective and getting out of jams and things like that. But he’s a special kid. I think in some ways we expect a lot out of him and this is some of that stuff.”
After a perfect first inning he was off and running, but he did run into some jams. Sale put runners on first and third in the third inning, but struck out Billy Butler and retired Mike Moustakas on a pop up to end the threat.
He erased a fifth-inning hit when he got Chris Getz to ground into a double play and escaped a potential jam in the seventh when Gordon Beckham made a diving catch of a line drive with a runner on first base. The next batter, Jeff Freancoeur, grounded into an inning-ending double play.
“Yeah, you always try to build on what you do good, bad or indifferent,” Sale said. “I faced this team a few times before so I was just mixing things up. You always want to throw strikes. The more you fill up the zone and the more they put swings on the ball and get some outs, you stay in there a little longer.”
He made 102 pitches, ending his day after giving up a two-out single to Alcides Escobar in the eighth inning.
“Today was very efficient,” Ventura said. “You start looking at some of his innings and his pitch totals and where he’s at. I think last year he would probably reach back and try to throw it harder at times. I think he’s a more mature kid as far as pitching and being effective, efficient through innings.
“I looked up to see how many pitches he had probably in the fifth or sixth, and last year it probably would’ve been 20 pitches higher. I think it’s maturity that allows him to do that.”